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After three months of conflict, the Ukrainian city of Mariupol is devastated


Russia's assault on Ukraine is now entering its third month with heavy fighting in the east and south. Last night, President Zelenskyy described in vivid terms one of the most devastated cities, Mariupol.



SIMON: He said, "it's a Russian concentration camp in the middle of ruins." We're joined now by NPR's Joanna Kakissis from Kyiv. Joanna, thanks so much.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: President Zelenskyy met with the U.N. secretary general this week to try to set up a plan to evacuate civilians from Mariupol. But any evacuation plans actually been put into place?

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, so far, all we know is that Ukrainian authorities are trying to establish evacuation corridors. And they've tried this several times with no success. And the situation in Mariupol is really dire. So there's so much need for an evacuation plan to happen because there are hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who are holed up in this underground maze under the Azovstal factory, which is this massive steel factory in Mariupol. Russian forces are constantly bombing this factory.

Hundreds of the Ukrainians there are wounded. There are women and children there. The youngest child is reportedly 4 months old. They're all running out of food, out of water, out of supplies. The group has sent out videos and photos on social media. And one photo is just so depressing, I just can't get it out of my head. It shows a toddler wearing a taped-up plastic bag as a diaper.

SIMON: And you've been in touch with a Ukrainian soldier who's inside the factory. What does he report?

KAKISSIS: Yes, I have. And he has confirmed all these terrible conditions. He calls the situation catastrophic. The soldiers' commander is now going to social media to beg Turkey for help since no one else has managed to get the group out. And, you know, let's not forget what's happening outside this plant. The Russians have bombed Mariupol into charred ruins. U.S. satellite images suggest there are mass graves outside Mariupol that are growing every day. And countries like Greece, which has historic ties to the city - they are pushing for the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Mariupol.

SIMON: Let me ask you about war crimes because the Ukrainians are investigating war crimes in other parts of the country at the same time. What's the latest on that?

KAKISSIS: So there are thousands of investigations into war crimes going on in Ukraine right now. Ukraine has many war crimes prosecutors who are going from town to town, from village to village to interview survivors of torture and of rape. They come with forensic teams to exhume bodies and then send those bodies to medical examiners. You know, and sometimes they don't have much to work with.

We spent a day with one war crimes prosecutor in Moshchun, a village not far from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. His investigators had discovered the partial remains of a person in the ruins of a house. And the prosecutor told me, you know, finding out how this person died is going to be incredibly difficult. And we may not even know for sure ever if it's a war crime.

SIMON: Yeah. But, I gather, Ukrainian prosecutors did have enough to bring war crimes charges in some other cases. Tell us about that.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. Ukraine is now looking for 10 Russian soldiers accused of murder, torture and rape in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv. Ukraine's defense ministry calls them the despicable 10. Russian soldiers occupied Bucha for a month at the beginning of the war. And when the town was liberated, Ukrainian troops found mass graves and bodies lying in the streets. Ukraine's prosecutor general has released the names and the photographs of the accused soldiers. And she says Ukraine will do everything possible to bring them to justice.

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv - thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.